Sitting in his office overlooking the bend where the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers meet in Washington, D.C., the Coast Guard's newly installed commandant, said as he takes the helm of the nearly 228-year-old service, its brand is at a peak.
"The Coast Guard has been at a good trajectory," Adm. Karl L. Schultz told National Defense during an exclusive interview. "We're kind of steady heading. That's what I'm looking at going forward."
Following in the footsteps of his predecessor, retired Adm. Paul Zukunft, Schultz said he wanted to continue to take the service on an upward trajectory as it works to protect national interests amid growing activity in the Arctic, the Western Hemisphere and around the globe.
"My intention would be to not deviate too much," he said. "Obviously, every change brings some different thinking, different ideas, but at our core it's... steady as you go with trying to pick up speed a little bit."
As part of his guiding principles over the next four years, Schultz--who took over in June--said he is focusing on making the Coast Guard a ready, relevant and responsive service.
Readiness is of critical importance, he noted. The service has for years been focusing on increasing its acqusition funding levels as it embarks on major recapitalization projects such as the polar icebreaker replacement, offshore patrol cutter, national security cutter and waterways commerce cutter.
"But as we sort of raised the bar on our acquisitions... side of our budget, we've been challenged a little bit on the readiness side," he added. "The operating side is probably the pressure point."
The Coast Guard is targeting a 5 percent steady, annual growth for its operations and support funding, Schultz said. While the service is replacing many of its aging assets, it still has 50-year-old cutters in operation, he noted. Those vessels are expensive to maintain and the newer ships coming down the pipeline will be costly as well, he added.
"My budgetary concern would be really pressing into those operating and support parts of the Coast Guard budget," he said. "We've gotta get that bar raised. We've gotta create a narrative around that."
Making a case to Congress for additional operating funds can be difficult because--unlike with the construction of a new vessel--operating costs don't tie into the creation of new jobs for lawmakers' districts, he said.
"It's not the stuff that Congress by default looks to spend dollars against.... But we've got to put...